What’s best for … who?

I have the pleasure of serving with Angela Conn0r on the Society of Professional Journalists’ Digital Media Committee. I recently wrote a blog post that said not all newspapers needed to put all of their content online. This has sparked a lot of conversation and commenting. Here’s Angela’s thoughtful response, which can also be found on the comment section of this blog:

Ray: So should they not care if people want a wealth of local news online? And what should they do when something like a West Seattle blog comes along? Perhaps you’re saying this is likely not to become an issue in some of these small towns. I hear what you’re saying in this post but I’m not sure how this model best serves the community. But maybe the goal is to create a model that best serves the newspaper. That’s what we’re talking about here right? Maybe I’m just a bit off-track.

I don’t believe there’s an inherent conflict between what’s good for the community and what best serves newspapers. But I also believe we’re in a digital journalism era in which we have to put revenue first.

We can still use all of the platforms at our disposal to provide customers with information around the clock. To do that, newspaper companies need to differentiate between it’s products. Small and mid size newspapers can do so in this manner:

The daily or weekly newspaper provides the guts of what’s going on in the community. The newspaper holds, for its own, those longer features and investigative pieces that play best in print. And they don’t put them online. That forces community members to buy a newspaper.

The online site teases to those pieces — in a few, short graphs with a some multi media elements — in an effort to get customers to subscribe to the newspaper. Mobile gives customers a snapshot of what’s happening in 140 characters or less.

That’s a model that pushes our customers to our aid product and doesn’t give away everything. But it’s a revenue-centri and not reporting-centric model. That’s a paradigm shift for those of us who have always put journalism first. Our priorities are now revenue No. 1 and content is 1A and it’s going to have to be that way for a while because without revenue there will be no content. Some of the startup online news sites are quickly finding that out, and I’ll blog about them — and their difficulties — in the near future.

If we take the stance that I once would have advocated — that journalism comes first and revenue second — we’ll find the industry in a death spiral we can’t overcome.

My blog appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and could expand if demand warrants.

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